Team Roles Needed for Social Software Projects

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , ,

I have a lot of hands-on designing, developing, and managing of social / collaborative platforms since 1996 and regularly advise product makers, vendors, and buyers around right fitting and understanding then working on solving problems they may have. One of the things that was regularly surfacing around 2007 as enterprise social platforms were getting taken seriously. But tool selection and roll out of them was often bumpy at best as there was a lack of the breadth of understanding around many services. This was the case with many vendors, but also really much the case on the customer side of things. When working through discovery of the problems that customers were having, usually in the “One Year Club”, many of the issues correlated to the lack of understanding the breadth of perspectives important to social and collaborative work and environments.

Looking at situations where products were right fits gave insight into what works well. The success factors surfaced where vendors with well rounded products that were correct fits for certain customers [commercial social platforms that understand social interactions at various scales and get their products right for specific users] and roll outs that have rather solid adoption. These all had breadth and depth of understanding. Looking at what helped them be successful it wasn’t one or two things, nor five, it was they had most of 14 different roles with roles in their selection, development, strategy, planning, launch, and running of their offering covered.

If you wanted to have success it became clear that having breadth and depth with these 14 roles would provide a good team that could help work through many, if not all the difficult struggles most social software / services rollouts and programs running face at one point or another. When looking across many of the projects I worked with in the One Year Club category (or colleagues who were working with programs that needed help) most of the efforts didn’t have the 14 roles covered. Most had 2 to 4 roles covered at best.

This gap was glaringly apparent when large parts of a rollout were in the custom build model, much like many organizations were struggling with around Microsoft SharePoint or other build your own solution platforms. Organizations weren’t buying finished products, but a platform that focussed on heavy customization (often with difficulty getting what they hope to do working well). Part was what came out of the box from SharePoint was a bit rough (3rd party solutions like Newsgator/Sitrion were quick ways to get things working well for social and collaboration needs in SharePoint with little hassle). What the teams working on SharePoint were lacking were 10 to 12 roles that they desperately needed for depth of understanding around how humans are social, how things function, ease of use in contexts, and other essential needs.

Moneyball of Social Software Teams

This breaks down the 14 roles at a somewhat high level. At times myself and others have called this the Moneyball system of social software. In baseball, which Moneyball focussed on, they focussed on what made the Oakland Athletics team with a low budget able to compete with large budget teams. Big budget teams focussed on home runs and star pitching along with other simple understandings of analysis. What the Oakland Athletics did was look at what makes a winning team and how to measure things based on outcomes by understanding things more broadly and deeply.

What I ran into was similar, though understanding the roles and needs to have a solid well rounded social software team, so to get solid successful results. Most solutions were rolled out with 2 to 5 roles with depth, but what are the other factors that also have deep value and because they were missing had a less than positive impact? Over the last 6 years or more I’ve shared this list of 14 in workshops and with long engagement clients (but at a deeper level), but also help them cover the ground across a few of them where I have that depth and breadth (from 20 years of experience with social software and formal learning).

One last thing to realize with this list, particularly if you are on the customer side, is you may not have these skills and roles, but your software or service provider cover some you are missing or help narrow the gaps for roles missing.

The 14 Social Software Roles for a Solid Team

IT Development

IT development is usually the one role that social software rollouts have covered. The development portion and getting the code right is often not an issue. This role covers development, integrations, stability, and upgrades / patches.

Content management

Content managers are incredibly helpful not only with content management practices and needs, but could also cover content strategy needs as well (if content strategy isn’t there working with communication specialist helps close this need). Most social environments have professionally created content that are part of their offerings as blogs or other more planned content models. But, content also surfaces out of conversations and cooperative activities in communities and groups. This content can be repurposed as it is or honed for other targeted and / or broad uses. Content managers also often works with document management and taxonomy roles for ease of finding and helping keep content well structured and easily found.

Community management

The community manager is a role that some organizations and services understand the need for to be successful. Others have yet to understand the need for this yet. Having a solid community manager who can help set the tone and culture of the community and groups, as well as help set good skills and practices in place for members of the social offering is a great asset. The community manager is the guide, host, and facilitator, but often has good depth working with difficult situations and turning them into very good outcomes. Good community managers are also adept at seeing needs and gaps in tools and services that need attention. A good community manager can’t fix a tool that isn’t a good fit for an organization, but can help get through that state to one that is a better fit, then help the better fit thrive.

Communication management

Solid communications management folks help with finding solid messages and well created content into a social environment. But, from a social perspective they also should have strength seeing content from users in the social environment that needs attention (as it is positive and needs more exposure, or it is negative and needs a calm way handling of it). Understanding the life cycles of content and workflows around finding, creating, honing, and right fitting content and messages shared from the organization as well as from the users is powerful and helps bring life to the social environment. Setting good content guidelines is another way the communication management role contribute to social environment success.

UX general design

User experience design is essential and has long been overlooked in enterprise until lately, as the focus services being designed for use and ease of use weren’t considered as needed when you could just send people to hours of training. But, with social offerings there are a lot of diverse elements that people are having to work through, besides how to get something done in a platforms or service. Good usable design with regular user research (prior to taking steps, as well as while designing potential options, and honing what is in place) helps take the rough edges off that get in the way of people using as well as understanding what a service does, and can do.

Social interaction design

General UX design isn’t enough with social platforms as there are a lot of interactions with the service and system, which is used to interact with others (which is difficult for many on its own). Understanding the design of social interactions (what is clicked and then what happens after it) so that the tools aren’t getting in the way, but also some of the rough edges of human social interactions are also eased is badly needed. There are broad options for buttons, forms, profiles, reactions, likes, etc. and social interactions designers work to understand what are the best fits for the contexts at hand and what the impacts will likely be with distinct user groups. User testing around social is a little different from general user testing as the situation requires working with a diversity of end points (people) at either end of what is put in place that need to be understood. Testing also needs to include various depth of use and maturity with the service. These help find a good fit in the social interaction design that works well.

Data analyst

Data analysts are essential to help understand benchmarks prior to starting down the path with social offerings, but also are needed to dig into the data to see how people are and aren’t using the services. Many platforms have decent data analysis, but it only scratches the surface and much better analysis is needed; particularly in larger solutions, more mature use environments, scaling, as well as those that have a diverse user segmentation. Social environments change drastically as they grow and act differently with more diversity as they scale. Data analysts should have good understanding of Social Network Analysis (SNA) / Organizational Network Analysis (ONA as well as many social analytics capabilities for seeing diversity, clustering, social scaling changes, etc. Having a solid data analyst helping with capturing the data that is needed, keeping privacy in mind, and slicing and making sense of the data with clarity has a big impact with what deeply matters in early stages and as use scales and matures.

Change management

Change management is not only essential for preparing organizations and people for a new service and offering, but deeply needed for the changes that come along with using these services. Digital social environments help enable normal networked social patterns that are well covered in Wirearchy as the shifts in ease of connecting in a digitally enabled networked environment can be disruptive. This is mostly in a positive way, but is not always perceived as positive if it is not known the changes may be coming. Helping people understand what the new services do and the needed mental models for working in this way are areas change managers can help with, as well as work with others around legal and compliance issues that need consideration.

Document management

Document management, with a solid understanding of social environments, helps with working through how to archive valuable content and conversations, but also how to ease finding and connecting to systems of record from inside a social offering. This connection needs to work in both directions, one is surfacing documents and resourceswell (within permissions guidelines, compliance, and connecting to the right / latest version), but also working out how to show the document or record is being discussed and used. This use activity around a record can be a valuable indicator that it may be getting updated, or caveats have surfaced that are valuable to all who view and need the record.

Social scientists (ethnographer, urban planner, sociologist, etc.)

The social scientists are often overlooked, but should be one of the first roles included. Social scientist, particularly those who have graduate school level of work, see social environments differently than most who don’t have that background (this may be a personal bias, but talking with others with similar background the “how was this essential understanding not seen” is a common phrase in reviewing social offerings). Social environments are under constant change and morph as (sub-)cultures intersect and social environments scale. The questions asked by social scientists, along with framings with models around how humans interact, while watching for conflict and the patterns that surface in constant change and are not seen are nothing less than essential. One of the common downfalls with social platforms is around they often don’t allow people to be social like humans are social. There is no better way to keep an eye out for that to mitigate for it, but also understand how humans are social at various scales than having social scientists involved.


Taxonomies are essential for easily grouping information, conversations, and content and for helping people find relevant and related matter. But, language and mental models for what things are called and are related to are often far more diverse and emergent than taxonomies allow for, so embracing folksonomy is also essential for social environments. Having a taxonomist involved will help set categories and information structures in place that will enable the capability for solid finding and refinding. If that taxonomist also embraces folksonomies (and the service has the foundation for it) the ability to have emergent taxonomies that take less work to keep up to date than traditional taxonomies can happen. Also embracing folksonomy helps new ideas and mental models (these emerge through new members, training, cultural shifts, etc.) be included in the ease of finding and grouping of findable and refindable information.

Knowledge management

Knowledge managers seem to be in and out of fashion in organizations these days, but no matter what the rest of an organization believes having solid knowledge management as part of the social software team is essential. Early social platforms were around 20 years ago were being built on understandings for how knowledge is created and honed, as well as changes over time. The social platforms had issues, but the foundations in knowledge management are solid. The knowledge manager provide understanding in what the services need to capture knowledge and resurface it when needed. But, in social platforms the “who” around knowledge is helpful as well. Often there is more than one person with expertise who has honed a different dimension of a full understanding, so it isn’t just one answer that is sought and one expert, but likely a few or many.

Search specialist

With all of the conversation, content, information, and knowledge created, shared, and pointed to it doesn’t matter much if it can’t be found. Part of it getting found is helped by content managers and taxonomists / folksonomists, but search needs to be solid as well. Most platforms have search built in to their offerings, but evaluating if that search will suffice at various scales will need a search specialist. But, search in platforms is also often tied to other search systems and how those integrate to find, hold onto, and surface information, content, and resources takes solid search specialists to get right. A lot of information and resources inside an organization is difficult to find (not by intent, but it is trapped in systems that aren’t searched easily nor integrated well) and social environments often point to these resources and frame what is there, which enables that content and resource surface in searches. Your whole organizations gets smarter and has more available resources if the social environment and search is well matched.

Legal resources are often not thought of until it is late in the process. Working with lawyers to help understand compliance, privacy, security, and risks in general from a legal perspective. Working with a lawyer who can help understand not to just say this can’t be done, but how to meet compliance and other needs and still have a great service is an amazing benefit and one that saves budget and time down the road helping meet needs and provide a solid offering.

How to Fill These Roles

Yes, 14 roles isn’t something that is easy to fill. But, this doesn’t need to be 14 different people. By knowing what to look for a lot of roles can be found and covered by one individual. Knowing what you need, often at a little deeper level than the high level outlined here, and how it fits in to the team can help shape a team of 5 or 6 people, or who can move in and out of the team at various times to help provide the breadth and depth needed.

Also, many of these roles can be and are covered by vendors who are doing things well. As walked through in The One Social Way or Not to Doing Social Really Well in Enterprise user research and other skills are being covered on the product side. Understanding from vendors how they test with users (what types of users - domain, roles, skills, etc.), how they understand social models and social scaling, build taxonomies or enable co-existing folksonomy for emergent taxonomy, enable search and integrate with existing search, have open models for data analysis, etc. can help see what roles are still needed.

Many of these roles (even if they are covered on the vendor side) are really good to have in the evaluation and selection process as well, so having these roles in a review and strategy team up front is a really good idea as well.

These roles also can be filled by integrators. This is rather rare these days, with the exception of a few small boutiques who have approached their offerings for integration and consulting by filling gaps they regularly saw as well. Many integrators are strong on the technical side and today often have good general UX people, change managers, and search integrators, but other roles with more depth around social science and social interaction design is not a focus most have had nor have considered.

Between vendors, good integrators, consultants, strategists, and in-house resources and hires it shouldn’t be that difficult to get the 14 roles covered in one way or another now that you know to look for them.

Slack is more than chat: Why it is the trojan horse to better enterprise

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , , , ,

During the last couple of years, since Slack has been publicly available, it has taken off like wildfire. To many it is "just a chat service", which gets derided and belittled like most chat services do. This is until they find that chat has not only a place in organizations it has lasting value in organizations, proven out over the last 5 to 8 years (if not longer). Slack, much like prior chat services, do really well in organizations. As a "presence service" (is the person at their desk or available) and a means to ask a quick question or have a quick discussion (synchronously or asynchronously). Over the last 5 to 8 years chat and messaging services took off in organizations. This is not they took off and became popular in pockets of organizations, but have become standard tools everywhere. Messaging not only became the norm, but in many (if not most) organization the messaging platform is second most used service behind email (often Outlook) that is centrally supplied and supported (I know a few organizations where messaging is used more than email and is their most used application / service).

If the email client is Outlook, more than likely the messaging service has been Lync (now rebranding to Skype for Business). The downside to Lync isn't that it is used heavily, but it isn't supported well enough with archiving and with solid search capability. Many IT shops say all the messaging (even if just text based) would eat loads of space to store it. It is a capacity problem in IT's perspective, which when broken down on a per person level it is less than a few gigs of text per year that are created from active users. The last few years Lync has been used heavily for internal voice and video (where allowed) messaging, which not only eats storage at a faster rate, but voice search is still not commercially available with good enough accuracy at a low enough price to be viable for voice in practice. The last issue has little to do with capacity, but is compliance focussed and storing of messages isn't seen as compatible with the organization's policies, which means many of their other knowledge capture capabilities are likely crippled to some degree as well. But, for organizations that believe storing messages and supplying really solid search is limited by capacity constraints a tool like Slack becomes the organization's dream.

So, Slack is a better messaging service?

Well, Slack didn't become popular (these days try and find an organization that isn't using Slack in it somewhere and paying to use it) because it was just another messaging service. There are loads of chat and messaging services for business and enterprise, like HipChat (the largest most similar product), Lync / Skype for Business, Jabber based services, or other less capable services that were developed by those who misbelieve chat is just simple and easy to make. What has Slack standing out is (similar to HipChat) syncing across all platforms, from your pocket, to your desk, or on your coffee table / sofa. But, unlike HipChat, Slack stood out for being not only easy to use, but fun to use. Part of this is the helpful Slackbot that guides users and provides assistance with a playful, yet helpful personality (personality that fits a service and need is incredibly helpful with bots is it help discern with service and bot you are interacting with in our lovely human brains) as well as the myriad of other bots that are available to add in.

Why is Slack people's buddy?

But, this isn't the whole reason Slack is being used, spreading widely, and relatively quickly. Slack is more than chat, which can be used quickly to interact with others and keep information out of email. But, Slack and its personality(ies) address some most acute pain points that are in every organization: Knowledge capture and retrieval; Search; and Interoperability / integration. All three of these organizational maladies not only have long been problematic most of the "solutions" for them over the years suck (to put it politely) for the people using them.

It is important to keep in mind Slack is founded and built by game developers who focus on creating fun and engaging environments. They deeply get staying away from creating pain points for customers / users, as well as reducing them - this isn’t the clicksperts gamification, it is real game mechanics and game design models / theory at work.

Knowledge capture and retrieval

Email has for more than a decade or two been known as the death bed for knowledge in organizations where things are captured and shared are never to be seen again. Yes, think of the cesspit that is email (we've known this problem for 20+ years) with each email little envelope not as that nice friendly symbol but as a tombstone for the dead / never to be live again knowledge within it. It is now you have got the reality of the last 20 plus years. But, more open systems that allow for capturing, sharing, and most importantly searching have really good value to move things forward.

Many organizations value capturing the knowledge they create and have within it. They also have interest in having that knowledge shared and found by others who can benefit from it, so the organization gets smarter faster. The key pain point is capturing what is known, often this is set as a separate set of actions and activities from what people do in their regular workflows and conversation / interaction models. This separation of flow and spaces decreases the use of the knowledge services. These separate services have their place and value as spaces and places for focussed (either team task focussed, project relevant investigations, or subject interest focussed) discussion and development of ideas. But, the conversations that happen in the flow of work are valuable to capture as they happen, then have them addressable / linkable and searchable.

Services that capture conversation and communication in open, historically captured, and addressable spaces have long been far more valuable than email. This value is replicated often with the ever present situation of bring somebody new into the team, project, and / or conversation. The context and history is there to be seen, the important items can be marked or pinned in a manner so they stand out as well as getting context around those items in their original context. Getting a new person conversant and in the flow of things (as well as not out of the loop in conversations that are current) is incredibly valuable when trying to get things done and done well.

Slack provides that means to capture the conversations as they happen. It provides the means to pin (and now with emoji responses, a hackable means) relevant valuable chunks of the conversations and streams.

Good search (yes, you read that right)

Search in and across enterprise, is often painful as it is not very good at finding things. One of the benefits of Slack for many is the search is quite good. Not only is Slack good at retrieving past messages and conversations, but anything that is linked to in Slack or attached as shared objects (text related or with text metadata) in Slack all become searchable. When the linked items or objects are returned in search they are surfaced within the context of the conversation they were shared. People using Slack in organizations have been amazed with the quality of search for finding and refinding shared knowledge and resources, but also relating the item to why and how it was shared. To those who are deprived of viable search in organizations Slack is a real treasure.

Most enterprise search provides success in only 4 of 5 attempts (this adds up to being roughly $375 of cost for unproductive / counter productive time per employee per year when looking at it through an extremely conservative lens (others estimate 4 to 10 times this cost per employee per year). Just the value of improved search, as well as bringing information into context and having it searchable ads greater value from moving the dark matter into the searchable light.

Search in Slack is most often better than the enterprise search that people use across their organization. But, it also is often better than the search that is built into various platforms that are used in and across the organization, including enterprise social networks (some exceptions to this include KnoweldgePlaza, which has really good search within it, as that is a large part its purpose). This improvement in search finds what is needed and the search result surfacing the item in context is really special. Slack has also designed this really well, which adds to the ease of use and enjoyment.

Integration and Interoperability (What? Really?)

Another big pain point in organizations is integration and interoperability. There are disparate systems which many people have to pay attention to metrics, messages / alerts, and charts from various services across them, which is not efficient and rarely is there an integrated view (nor a means to interact across different systems from one interface). But, rarely is there a means to search within and across the services to do quick comparisons or easily bring those things into a more unified view. Often IT has the integrations far down on their prioritized to do list or in the "can not be done category" for reasons of feasibility or difficulty. But, one of the beauties of Slack is it integrates with other services relatively easily through a variety of methods (many can be done in a day or two in side-project time), if there is access to an API or even a means to see a screen so it can be parsed for values and meaning. Groups have been able to pull together their own aggregated and searchable views (sometimes in their own channel to view / review and search within or as a system with an identity that chats and shares things out as a bot). The solution that is cobbled together in side-project time to meet the needs of employees meets their jobs to get done and need that access requirements, which make Slack far quite efficient and usable. While IT has their requests slowly (if that) moving through the prioritization process, employees have been able to drastically reduce the pain points that nudge them to consider looking employment opportunities that value their getting work done.

Sane payment models

One of the last, often overlooked, elements goes completely against the trend of "evil" enterprise service payment models of paying for seats (used or unused). This model is loved by nearly all enterprise software vendors (or their boards - somebody has to love it as it surely isn't the customers who know they are being taken for a ride).

Slack treats paying for their software / services differently. It runs on a freemium model, but has high conversion rate to paying customers for its offerings. It is not that paying users get full search of the a complete archive and more plug-ins, but also quite good support (yes there are a few others that give quite good support - though this isn't the norm). The pay model provides improved search powers and interoperability / integration, which being severe pain points in organizations make it worth paying for and the pricing per user makes that a bargain (hey Slack don't go changing the price though).

Yet, what really makes Slack's payment model special and different is you only pay for accounts used that month. (Did I hear a collective "WHAT?") Yes, you don't pay for the number of prospective seats nor tied into long contracts that go beyond the needed time span. Ever try to get a reduction in seats paid for after a few months when you have realized only 60% of the seats paid for are used and that doesn't look like it will shift over the next 18 to 30 months of the life of the lock-in? Slack understands that pain and opted to not partake in that model of pain.

In short Slack reduces pain and increases efficiency and value

So, the reasons why Slack seems to be at the tip of many business and enterprise tongues (as an inquiry or recommendation) is focussing on what is delivered, its ease, and the value people get.

Slack aims at delivering a usable (and friendly) service as a means to communicate to get and share information and knowledge. But, in doing this also knocks out some nasty pains people in organizations really don't like and have long wanted resolved. Slack is basically the un-enterprise solution as it focusses on being easy to use, reduces pain points, and tries to be friendly. Yes, this is software for the enterprise, or for the parts that don't relish pain.

So Slack is perfect and the cure all?

Um, no. Slack is far from perfect. It isn't trying to be everything. So, you are wondering what are the pain points or limitations?

Slack isn't going to scale to meet your hundreds or thousands of employees needs today

Slack works relatively well up to a few hundred people (there are many hundreds using in one installation (instances well over a thousand as well), but that isn't optimal). And even with keeping an installation under a couple hundred people it is still going to be a bit noisy. Many of these installations with more than 100 people in them use the channels for creating smaller groups / teams / projects / targeted conversations.

While improvements are need to get to solid filtering, this does help so important things don't get missed, or conversations that could use a person's input gets their attention when they weren't specifically called out. The ability to move conversations to and between channels (in a manner that leaves a trail behind where the conversation started).

It also needs the ability to more easily tie conversations threads together and tie related discussions together through tags (yes, I said the tags word) [the addition of each entry now having the ability to get emoji responses has been getting used to aggregate related content in some organizations in a "visual tagging" way, but lacks clarity in understanding, even with "what each emoji means" charts]. Also, finding related threads and discussions across channels can be cumbersome in search when different terms (synonyms / fungible technical terms) are being used, even if search is good.

Not everything nor everybody works in the open

In organizations there are viable and valuable reasons to have some things not shared openly. Legal, regulatory, compliance, and some things are best tested and considered among a few people and honed / vetted before sharing more widely and other needs for improving social comfort are often lacking in the enterprise social platforms.

Many mature social platforms for enterprise now offer private spaces for groups to share information, and if it seems viable or gets honed / edited it is shared it out more broadly. Many even follow the social progression of fire model where trends in the messages / sparks and comments are seen as being connected and possibly need more investigation, then moved to or collected in a small comfortable space / campfire to investigate before sharing more broadly / campfire (if it is deemed worthy of moving it forward), and then honed through collaboration and perfected to be put into production / torch.

By the way - Slack does offer the capability of not remembering things for paid users as some organizations require this for compliance. There is a forget quickly, forget in a week or so, and keep everything capability to meet a variety of needs / requirements of organizations [this forgetting negates the incredibly helpful search, but organizations that require this often have bigger troubles that they are dealing with]. But, global forgetting isn't the same as quiet comfortable groups with permeable walls that work well for many people in larger organizations with cultures heavy on the Western European and North American sensibilities.

Slack doesn't replace everything

There have already been some rather poorly considered (mostly through the lack of understanding the diversity and complexity of social - no it isn't simple nor just complicated) "we are going to use Slack to replace..." attempts. Understanding the category / class of tool that Slack falls into is essential. It isn't a replacement for the collective, curation, nor team / group workspaces like Jive and others (yes, there is one service in this category / class that nearly everybody wants to move away from as fast as they can, but Slack isn't the tool to move to as a replacement). Slack does well to sit alongside those services for conversational interactions and sharing results out of them. It isn't going to replace a social search and collective aggregation service like KnowledgePlaza. Slack not only integrates things into itself, but also can have what is in it as fodder to integrate out, so conversations and things shared in Slack can be honed and more deeply framed and considered in other services and then have results and outcomes of those considerations shared back into Slack.

Slack is not going to replace your document management service. It is a good partner for it to add context and easily drop documents that are relevant from the service into Slack. But, Slack isn't going to replace document management, even if its search is good, the versioning, permissions, and access controls for compliance and other valid needs aren't there in Slack. Your document management service could become more pleasurable to use though.

Enterprise is a complicated beast

Having worked in and around social software for enterprise for about 20 years now, it is a wicked space. There are a lot of "needs" that Slack doesn't comply with yet. There are a lot of issues that aren't on Slack's horizon yet, it may not want to place them there.

Enterprise also brings with it a diversity of needs, mental models inside, use cases, workflow models, and more that should be and could be addressed, but Slack isn't there yet. I'm not sure Slack even has all of them fully on their radar - many organizations don't centrally have them on their radar yet either. But needs arise when divisions and groups underserved by centrally chosen tools in an organization that doesn't fit their needs. When this happens groups often will go in search of services and tools that meet their needs to help them get the job done.

Working with enterprise means working with organizations that don't understand how they themselves actually work nor operate in workflows nor knowledge flows. Many social platforms aren't in the business to help organizations understand their needs, problems, pain points, and gaps yet these are the first steps to understanding the right fit for tools. Analysts, for the most part, aren't in this business, nor are most consultants (selling solutions based cookie cutter decision models makes more profit than the deep understanding the problems before considering solutions model). Perhaps Slack could embrace this model of helping organizations understand themselves, as they aren't focussed on "winning" as much as helping solve problems and address needs (another reason Slack stands out and has a good helpful product).

So what should you do?

The first step is to take Slack seriously. It is doing a lot of things really well, as well as weekly and monthly iterations making things even better.

Also understand not only what Slack is, but what it isn't. Understand how your organizations works (if you need help with that reach out to me, as helping organizations see clearly through the fog of complexity is what I do) and sort out how a service that focusses on reducing pain points and increases people's ability to get things done can fit.

Second, start early thinking about filtering to cut through the noise for alerts and reducing "noise". Work out a community guide and plan. Also, sort out the flow models that can work well with the other services in the organization.

Shift Happened - Part 3: Capturing Decisions in Social

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , ,

In the last 5 years many people have been working amidst a shift in how they work digitally and where they interact digitally with colleagues. They also realize the product of their work may have shifted as well. The work product has long been presentations, white papers, spreadsheets, general reports, etc. These deliverables are products of the work done and are often only a small representation of the thinking, considerations, and actual work put in to get to the final product. This final product has long been treated by organizations as the document of record, which is the model for the systems they have been working around for years.

The value of these output creations, or documents in a system of record are limited as the half life of their value is often rather short as the conditions and reality of the context they were created in and for is usually in continual flux. This means once the document is delivered not only is it (if all went well in the creation of it) correct for a relatively short period of time, but it is often just a transition point for other work. The deliverable is presented or handed over and others and then begin their work, it is just an interstitial between two or more sets of activity.

Realizing the Big Value

Many organizations have been realizing the value in their documents that are storing, while helpful, is only a small slice of the value captured from the work that went into it. Many organizations have employees doing their work with their colleagues in collaboration / social platforms and have been using these systems of engagement to capture the work in progress. When organizations start looking at the work that is captured in these tools and in formats that are relatively easy to use, they realize the value in them far exceeds the value in the outcomes document that is tucked away in they system of record, which often are rarely returned to.

What the systems of engagement offers is solid insight into the framing of the problem, the multitude of options, the researching and testing the options, thinking through the options, and often how the decisions for inclusion and exclusion were arrived upon. Much of this is captured in the service tacitly and / or explicitly. The key is to turn the tacit into explicit, or at least make it discoverable.

There is a wide valley between tacit and explicit knowledge. Capturing conversation and information flows was often enough to flip the tacit to explicit for some. But, this is far from binary as it really should be easily found and addressable. One system that for many years has provided the ability to point to and annotate at a paragraph level it Traction Software, which can be and is used to annotate decision inflection points as well as information of note that can be used to highlight and annotate likely highlights for decisions.

Systems of Engagement Meet Systems of Record

Systems of record are often the tools where outputs and outcomes are tracked. Document management and content management, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) that tracks sales and customer interactions, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) that tracks supply chain and product delivery, and more that are tied to business roles and / or lines of business. The systems of record are often the meta layer as the work is not done there, but the representation of that work is.

The systems of engagement are the various communication, collaboration, and social business network services. The discussions, sharing of resources in and around work, and often decisions regarding what moves forward and not often happens in these services. The ability to capture the decision points and the more minor inflection points is an incredible value. But, this takes a step beyond just purely capturing it, the inflection and decisions need to be easier to find than many services offer.

There are some work around solutions, which include the print a PDF of the pages / screens with inflections and decisions, then highlight and annotate the PDF and place it in the document repository. Ya, not so elegant, but it sort of works.

Shift Happened Series

On the Way to the Next Big Thing

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , ,

This was written in April 2011 and a publication had interest in publishing it, but it didn't fit their editorial cycle so it sat. I have annotated this with an endnote to bring it current.

A funny thing happened on the way to the next big thing, the big thing was little. Many people are looking to build the next Facebook or Twitter, but those that are gaining traction and actually being used don’t focus on collection and aggregation of the masses, they focus on the small groups of people who know each other and really aren’t connecting or interacting in or for the public eye.

At SXSW this past year, 2011, the next big thing wasn't one thing, it was many things. It was these same smaller group interaction platforms that let people who know each other already interact. The funny thing is this really shouldn't be a surprise to anybody who has actually been following or connecting to the mainstream in the crowd using Facebook or any other large service. Most people are are connected to a small group friends or other label for the people they share information, status, and possibly location with. When Facebook took its service beyond the walls of the university and let any old Joe and Jane in many of the students had fear and cut back their usage of the service. They wanted a service to have more regular communication and more private interactions with out of the eye of the hoards. This isn't because they are doing things they are ashamed of or would cause them consternation if others found out, it is because that is how most people in mainstream interact and consider normal. Many of these students kept their Facebook accounts and use them occasionally, but this is not their social home, this is not where they check the pulse of the group of people they want to connect with.

When you consider how this plays out you see it really clearly inside organizations that have openly social communication and collaboration platforms up and running. Much of the interaction is often not out in the open, but in the more focussed less travelled (or even semi-closed) groups and forums. These are the comfortable spaces with permeable walls. But, this is often where much of the sharing and interacting happens in organizations.

For many who drank the Kool Aide of people want to be openly social, this is an odd trend. But, it isn't really a trend it is the norm and for most of time going back this has been the norm. There is something to Robin Dunbar's postulation of “theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships”, which is commonly known as “The Dunbar Number” and is approximately 150 (with bounds of 100 to 230 as reasonable lower and upper reaches for most people). But, for small very close knit groupings of friends you often see from a a few teens in groups up to 40 to 50. But, about 40 to 75 the dynamics shift and is repeatedly comes up when talking to people in digital services with the number of people where the service shifted from being fun and easy to use to being more work.

At SXSW this year the proffering of small social services, many for smart mobile devices only, like Beluga, Ditto, GroupMe, etc. were the talk of the event in Twitter and from the remote conversations I was picking up on. The question was, “which service are you on?” for those you deemed viable enough to connect with outside of the masses in Facebook and Twitter. These services are where people look for who wants to meet up for dinner, where is the good place to hang, or most importantly “where are my peeps?”

Invisible Communities

This past week I caught Chris Heathcote's presentation on “Invisible Communities” from February 2011 at Lift Conference. Chris talks about all of the unseen communities on the internet and web, which have nearly always been there and keep growing. These are the web forums where the “good” information is shared. These are the handled application based services, some with web presence, but very few are searchable or open to the public. Chris' talk echoed most everything I hear when I talk to the famed “millennials” in organizations who are claimed to be “openly social” and heavy users of these huge web social tools, but when I sit with them in organizations regarding social tools inside the organization (they are included as they are supposed to be the heavy users and the ones that really know this stuff well), but dang if I have ever run across one that has claimed this. Very few use Facebook or Twitter (the “Twitter is for old people” (over 25) is commonly stated) and they all state some different small social tool where they keep in touch with their good friends with.

Personal InfoCloud

Doc Searls wrote a real gem of a post, “The Sense of Bewronging”. Doc's post is about the need for personalization and putting things in context that “I” care about, or as talked about here in this site the Come to Me Web and Personal InfoCloud. A post that triggered Doc was a presentation and post by Louis Gray “The Third Wave of the Web Will Be Uniquely Personal”. Both of these posts talk about aggregating all that we have inbound and as well share out (our digital exhaust) so to filter and hone what it is we care about so to serve it up more to our actual interests and with out information overload.

Many of us have been aggregating our own information for quite a while in various tools and services, or on just pulling and archiving feeds. Phil Gyford talks about a new kind of front page, Steven Berlin Johnson talks about the need for a Commonplace Book, Drummond Reed discusses the Personal Data Store, Jon Udell has his Hosted Lifebits, and Kim Cameron says my Personal InfoCloud “I think a framework like the one he proposes - based on attraction - is probably an early harbinger of the identity big bang.”

Why Does this Matter?

All of this matters because for as much as we use ThinkUp, My6sense, Momento app, Summify, etc. for our aggregation of personal exhaust data and to filter to ease our attention focus as well as use and most importantly reuse what flows through this at some point. In using these services most are focussing on the big social stops like Facebook and Twitter, just like malls have big box stores, but most people are not going to the mall for the big box they are hitting the smaller stores or skipping the mall altogether for more personal customer service and supporting businesses of people whom they know. If the social aggregation and information filtering tools are keeping their focus on the mall’s big boxes of social web, they are missing where many people are actually spending their valued attention. Having a wonderful service like ThinkUp to provide a history of what I have shared and was shared with me (or the more impersonal fact, shared to many and my friend hooks, nabbed a digital copy of that sucker) so that I can search and pull things together later is missing some key valued elements.

While it is worth the time these services are spending (all pulling the same big sites and services and missing the less broadly known services) on the big box social web services, so we can pay a bit less attention on them but for some digests and pay attention to our more valued services. But, what looses out is the use and reuse of across all those services. You have a friend share a book she just finished she thinks you and your group would like, but shared it in your tight friend space you won’t have easy recall from a central place. A real personal aggregation and attention management tool needs to capture all streams we consider to have value. Being able to build a Granular Social Network that really works and that keeps our attention from being over taxed is where much of this really should head. We have been stating what this third wave of the web should be for a long time as a personal web, we now have the tools start getting there, but we need to ensure our focus fits our needs and our actual interactions.

Yes, for those of you that have made it this far and have been waiting to state all this is walling ourselves off from the rest of the world, well I think this aggregation, archiving, and filtering to keep our attention from hitting overload is needed so we can take a much broader look at what is outside our bounds. If we enable keeping what is valuable in front of us we can explore and interact even more.

Some things have changed a little bit in the past year, but largely not much has changed. Facebook has its Timeline, which has thin value for being able to scan the real volume of our activities and then be able to aggregate and reuse that information in more usable and valuable (for one's self and others) format. It is an interesting visualization, but the value of making deeper sense just isn't there and understanding things never seems to fit in Facebook's plans.

Closing Delicious? Lessons to be Learned

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , ,

There was a kerfuffle a couple weeks back around Delicious when the social bookmarking service Delicious was marked for end of life by Yahoo, which caused a rather large number I know to go rather nuts. Yahoo, has made the claim that they are not shutting the service down, which only seems like a stall tactic, but perhaps they may actually sell it (many accounts from former Yahoo and Delicious teams have pointed out the difficulties in that, as it was ported to Yahoo’s own services and with their own peculiarities).


Never the less, this brings-up an important point: Redundancy. One lesson I learned many years ago related to the web (heck, related to any thing digital) is it will fail at some point. Cloud based services are not immune and the network connection to those services is often even more problematic. But, one of the tenants of the Personal InfoCloud is it is where you keep your information across trusted services and devices so you have continual and easy access to that information. Part of ensuring that continual access is ensuring redundancy and backing up. Optimally the redundancy or back-up is a usable service that permits ease of continuing use if one resource is not reachable (those sunny days where there's not a cloud to be seen). Performing regular back-ups of your blog posts and other places you post information is valuable. Another option is a central aggregation point (these are long dreamt of and yet to be really implemented well, this is a long brewing interest with many potential resources and conversations).

With regard to Delicious I’ve used redundant services and manually or automatically fed them. I was doing this with Ma.gnol.ia as it was (in part) my redundant social bookmarking service, but I also really liked a lot of its features and functionality (there were great social interaction design elements that were deployed there that were quite brilliant and made the service a real gem). I also used Diigo for a short while, but too many things there drove me crazy and continually broke. A few months back I started using Pinboard, as the private reincarnation of Ma.gnol.ia shut down. I have also used ZooTool, which has more of a visual design community (the community that self-aggregates to a service is an important characteristic to take into account after the viability of the service).

Pinboard has been a real gem as it uses the commonly implemented Delicious API (version 1) as its core API, which means most tools and services built on top of Delicious can be relatively easily ported over with just a change to the URL for source. This was similar for Ma.gnol.ia and other services. But, Pinboard also will continually pull in Delicious postings, so works very well for redundancy sake.

There are some things I quite like about Pinboard (some things I don’t and will get to them) such as the easy integration from Instapaper (anything you star in Instapaper gets sucked into your Pinboard). Pinboard has a rather good mobile web interface (something I loved about Ma.gnol.ia too). Pinboard was started by co-founders of Delicious and so has solid depth of understanding. Pinboard is also a pay service (based on an incremental one time fee and full archive of pages bookmarked (saves a copy of pages), which is great for its longevity as it has some sort of business model (I don’t have faith in the “underpants - something - profit” model) and it works brilliantly for keeping out spammer (another pain point for me with Diigo).

My biggest nit with Pinboard is the space delimited tag terms, which means multi-word tag terms (San Francisco, recent discovery, etc.) are not possible (use of non-alphabetic word delimiters (like underscores, hyphens, and dots) are a really problematic for clarity, easy aggregation with out scripting to disambiguate and assemble relevant related terms, and lack of mainstream user understanding). The lack of easily seeing who is following my shared items, so to find others to potentially follow is something from Delicious I miss.

For now I am still feeding Delicious as my primary source, which is naturally pulled into Pinboard with no extra effort (as it should be with many things), but I'm already looking for a redundancy for Pinboard given the questionable state of Delicious.

The Value of Delicious

Another thing that surfaced with the Delicious end of life (non-official) announcement from Yahoo was the incredible value it has across the web. Not only do people use it and deeply rely on it for storing, contextualizing links/bookmarks with tags and annotations, refinding their own aggregation, and sharing this out easily for others, but use Delicious in a wide variety of different ways. People use Delicious to surface relevant information of interest related to their affinities or work needs, as it is easy to get a feed for not only a person, a tag, but also a person and tag pairing. The immediate responses that sounded serious alarm with news of Delicious demise were those that had built valuable services on top of Delicious. There were many stories about well known publications and services not only programmatically aggregating potentially relevant and tangential information for research in ad hoc and relatively real time, but also sharing out of links for others. Some use Delicious to easily build “related information” resources for their web publications and offerings. One example is emoted by Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb wonderfully describing their reliance on Delicious

It was clear very quickly that Yahoo is sitting on a real backbone of many things on the web, not the toy product some in Yahoo management seemed to think it was. The value of Delicious to Yahoo seemingly diminished greatly after they themselves were no longer in the search marketplace. Silently confirmed hunches that Delicious was used as fodder to greatly influence search algorithms for highly potential synonyms and related web content that is stored by explicit interest (a much higher value than inferred interest) made Delicious a quite valued property while it ran its own search property.

For ease of finding me (should you wish) on Pinboard I am


Good relevant posts from others:

Bing Likes Like, But Does it Mean We Do

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , ,

Last week Microsoft Bing and Facebook announced Facebook is now part of Bing search. The part that has been touted the most is Bing's inclusion of Facebook Likes.

For me this is really surprising as Like has very little value, what little value is has is confounded by it lacks any explicit understanding of intent. Search is about finding what is being sought, which is much harder than it sounds, particularly with massive amounts of information, or when searching across contexts and influences. Like really doesn't add much of anything of value to this. Why somebody likes something is really important to understand, or more importantly even if a person actually likes what they placed a like on, or if they were using it as a proxy for a bookmark to hold on to something so to return later, or even if the Like is a social statement.

One of my trips to California I was with friends and we were trying to sort out where to grab something to eat. One friend suggested In-N-Out, she figured it was well liked and even the guy who is vegetarian would be in on it as he liked it on Facebook (she remembered). The vegetarian in the group strongly preferred not to go there and wanted an option with better vegetarian offerings. When he was asked why he put a Facebook Like on it he said, "I like hanging out with my friends there as it makes them happy, but I usually have eaten before, or will after. Now I am hungry and wish to eat, so I really prefer something other than In-N-Out." This triggered everybody talking about their doing similar things with Like in Facebook, which really didn't mean they liked what they clicked "Like" on.

Facebook Like, much like the often problematic star ratings, adds more ambiguity (or another value point that has no clear meaning that can be reliably used for search or predictors). My favorite recommendations from Facebook are those similar to "Those who like food also like sleep.", which gives me the option to like sleep. (We can cure cancer if we keep this intelligent thinking up.)

What is Next? The Past!

So, if this augmented ambiguity from using Facebook Like in search is problematic leads you to think, "What is better?" Well, a look back to 2005 or 2006 at Yahoo! is a very good place to start. Somewhere in this timeframe Yahoo Search did something smart, no freakishly smart (actually connecting two things together that made a giant difference for search). Yahoo! had its own social bookmarking service "My Web", which was somewhat similar to Delicious (which Yahoo acquired). The second version of MyWeb (MyWeb2) made it easy to see one's own bookmarks that you yourself tagged in your own context, your friends bookmarks they had tagged with their tag terms in their context, and everybody's. Yahoo! incorporated the tags and social connections from MyWeb2 into their search. This dramatically improved the search, if you were using MyWeb2 and particularly if you had stated people you were connected to.

At this point Yahoo! not only caught up to Google but passed it by a large margin for me. Why? Google was very good at finding good results, often good enough. Yahoo! with MyWeb2 built in and using my 60 to 70 people I was connected to started surfacing exactly what I was looking for. This was happening regularly. This was search Nirvana. Let's step back slightly to understand why.

Proper Social Understandings Improve Search Precision

One of the interesting things about people tagging content to store it in services like MyWeb2 or Delicious (or any other folksonomy tagging service) is people almost alway only tag things they have interest in. Based on the assumption (which holds up well) that people hold on to thing they like, but when they drift from that they usually will add tags that state that deference.

Search is difficult because of contextual influences and ambiguity. Having tagging done by people whom you know can help with that contextualization. People whom you know having tagged things around what you are seeking and use the terms in similar manner to the way you do has value. Well, no not really, it has insanely great value. The key is sorting out similar affinities (as close as possible) and similar term use helps to further remove ambiguity, which becomes clearer when you can parse things through the lens of a granular social network. With just 60 to 70 people my world of search was turned upside down in a very positive way. All search results that had been bookmarked and tagged by people I was connected to were annotated with their their name and often tags.

This giant step forward for Yahoo! did not last long as after a few months the experiment was over and Yahoo search returned to being not as helpful as Google search, which is just good enough.

The Yahoo experiment was not perfect, but it was much closer than most anything else to that point. Holding it back was the lack of people you were connected to. The more people you were connected to, to some degree, was helpful. Also, very few people knew about this experiment (it didn't seem like an experiment at the time, as it seemed it could only grow, but Yahoo really didn't seem to know how to get the word out or talk about this value, it was an information geek thing (yes, I could fall into that grouping). But, the piece missing that would have been most helpful, was the ability to garden and craft your relationships to those with whom you connected.

The gardening and contextualizing those with whom you are connected is really powerful. It doesn't need to be publicly exposed but the tools and service can make giant leaps forward if we have this. Most of this contextualization is assumed by tools and services, but having explicit crafting takes the guessing out. Being able to add fuzzy (roughly defined) semantic terms to attract what you value from that person closer while keeping the things of less of value at bey, can be helpful. This is core to the model of attraction (draft) idea that has been my frame for much around me for years. Being able to tag or annotate "Jim" with cycling, food, social search, design, and baseball will help search bring things roughly related to those topics or terms close to me, but may not give as high of relevance for his passion for early 1990s dot matrix printers nor Hobbits.

Next Step?

The next step for this as in terms of products and services also has happened. An enterprise social bookmarking service, Connectbeam (now gone) took the next step (Lotus Dogear, now Lotus Bookmarks in their Connections tools is somewhat similar) by bringing this same social tagging into the work environment and then surfacing that added value into search results. What set Connectbeam apart from others doing similar efforts was it helped people understand the social components better than most. They had some really good social interaction designs around the connecting people, that really started to get at some of the tough nuances that are really hard to crack outside the early adopter types using service (only 5 to 15% of most orgs will fall into that early adopter mindset, the rest are really lost with this). This crafting and understanding social interactions allowed Connectbeam to have the potential to drastically improve search, (search is a very expensive and painful proposition at every organization I have run across). The social interactions needed for comfort, familiarity, and producing value is central to getting any service right, but the hurdle is big but there is a large positive value if you get that right for social tagging. Sadly, Scuttle and thin not well thought through attempts at social tagging really do not add to much either.

Spending time to understand the keys to getting it right and selecting tools that do it well or working with vendors to get there will pay off.

On Fire with Social Progressions

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , ,

When talking with organizations about social tools and logical social flows for information from ideas all the way to formal outcomes (white papers, process docs, product enhancement requirement documents, etc.) there have always been stated steps. Some of these steps have different incarnations and labels, depending on how things are done conventionally. But, there is a usual natural progression of how these flow that is rather common and universal across organization types (formal or not).

To these progression points there are classes/types of tools or services that map well to these, but very rarely is it one tool/service set crosses these, but whether it is all tools/services under one umbrella application or distinctly different instances, they really should be linked and integrated as seamlessly as possible.

The steps in the social progression are as follow:


The first step or home base, is more of a state for beginning, is the the personal space and repository. Sadly, this is the ugly step child that is very often missed in many tools/service offerings. The place were a person has a view of their resources, which is mapped in their context and needed representations to make sense with the least effort. This is the view with things they need to see surface (from their perspective and from others) and from where they jump to interacting with information, objects, tasks, and others.

Sparks (Ideas Shared)

Match spark photo by Flickr user SeRVe61 The first step often comes from asking questions simply and easily and quick easy responses, or sharing quick notes and ideas that get feedback and interest. Many times this is done efficiently in micro sharing services like similar to Twitter but with a grasp of needs organizations have (Socialtext Signals or Socialcast are solid options to consider). But, other options, including blogs and discussion forums have the capability of doing this as well.

With sparks of ideas they need to have the ability to be found so to be responded to, aggregated, or even shared to ensure the right people see them and can interact. There is a wide breadth of types of things that flow through micro sharing services, but many will resonate, inform, or inspire others. But, quite often they get solid conversations flowing across a broad cross section of people and locations.

Campfire (Gathering of Others with Interest)

Campfire From the spark of inspiration many others with interest or affinity gather to discuss and the spark turns into a campfire. Stories are told and fuel is added to the fire. Honing of the ideas and gather inspiration, information, and content from broad sources and view is then curated and honed to some degree.

The tools needed for the campfire stage must allow from much broader conversation than the limited spark stage. Limiting the room around the campfire to those with strong interest and affinity helps keep the focus, but also these people will likely have the deepest reserves of fodder for the conversation and a wide variety of perspectives and resources they can tap ready at hand. Longer conversation and curating all that is gathers are the prime focus. Curation through tagging is often incredibly helpful (being able to tag so to aggregate and curate ideas from the sparks stage is highly important).

Bonfire (Broader Interest Gathering)

Bonfire Once the ideas have been fleshed out and framed to some degree and curated to control scope the discussion turns into a bonfire. Bonfires, while much larger still need to be controlled and maintained or they get out of control and things get dangerous. At this stage broad viewing for healthy feedback and discussion, including highlighting things that have been missed, what works well, what doesn't work well, etc. are the key focus. This is the time to get understanding and direction that hones and shapes everything that is possible. It is also used to add to what has been gathered and curated in the campfire stage so to iterate on it.

Torch (Honing for Broad Use & Replication)

Olympic torch photo taken by Flickr user bakanoodle Lastly, is the torch stage. This is easy to handle, easy to replicate, and is safe. This requires Real Collaboration to work through the conflicting ideas and negotiate as well as intelligently work toward one final output. These final outputs can be white papers, new processes, new guidelines, new products, etc. But, the point is there is one (just like artists collaborating on a statue there is only one statue, not many and all through differences have been worked through to one salient solution).

Understanding the Cost of We Can't Find Anything

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , , , ,

One problem I often hear when talking with any organization about new solutions is understanding the cost and inefficiency of their existing way solutions, processes, or general way of doing things. In the past year or two I have used various general measurements around search to help focus the need for improvement not only on search, but the needed information and metadata needed to improve search.

We Can't Find Anything

There is nothing more common that I hear from an organization about their intranet and internal information services than, "We can't find anything." (Some days I swear this is the mantra that must be intoned for an organization to become real.)

There are many reasons and potential solutions for improving the situation. Some of these involve improved search technologies, some improved search interfaces, or But, understanding the cost of this inefficiency is where I find it is valuable to start.

The first step after understanding you have this problem is to measure it, but most organizations don't want to pay for that they are just looking for solutions (we all know how this turns out). The best method I find is walking through the broad understandings of the cost of inefficiencies.

The Numbers...

At Interop 2009 I presented "Next Generation Search: Social Bookmarking and Tagging". This presentation started off with a look at the rough numbers behind the cost of search in the enterprise (see the first 16 slides). [I presented a similar presentation at the SharePoint Saturday DC event this past week, but evaluated SharePoint 2010's new social tagging as the analysis focus.]

Most of the numbers come from Google white papers on search, which gets some of their numbers from an IDC white paper. I also have a white paper that was never published and is not public that has slightly more optimistic numbers, based on the percentage of time knowledge workers search (16% rather than the Google stated ~25% of a knowledge workers time is spent searching). There are a few Google white papers, but the Return on Information: adding to your ROI with Google Enterprise Search from 2009 is good (I do not endorse the Google Search Appliance, but am just using the numbers used to state the problem).

I focus on being optimistic and have I yet to run into an organization that claims to live up to the optimistic numbers or total cost of inefficiency.

  • Few organization claim they have 80 percent of or better success with employees finding what they need through search
  • That is 80 percent success rate
  • Or, 1 in 5 searches do not find what is they were seeking
  • A sample organization with 500 searches per day has 100 failures
  • An average knowledge worker spends 16% of their time searching
  • 16% of a 40 hour work week is 1.25 hours spent searching
  • 20% (spent with unsuccessful searches) of 1.25 hours a week is 15 minutes of inefficient productivity
  • At an average salary of $60,000 per year that leads to $375 per person of inefficient productivity
  • Now take that $375 per knowledge worker and multiply it by how many knowledge workers you have in an organization and the costs mount quickly
  • An organization with 4,500 knowledge workers is looking at a inefficiency cost of $1,687,500 per year.
  • Now keep in mind your knowledge workers are you most efficient at search
  • Many organizations as a whole are running at 40% to 70% success rate for search

We Know We Have a Costly Problem

This usually is enough to illustrate there is a problem and gap with spending time resolving. The first step is to set a baseline inside your organization. Examine search patterns, look at existing taxonomies (you have them and use them to some degree, yes?) and work to identify gaps, look at solutions like tagging (folksonomy) to validate the taxonomy and identify gaps (which also gives you the terms that will likely close that gap). But get a good understanding of what you have before you take steps. Also understand the easy solutions are never easy without solid understanding.

Evaluating what, if any taxonomy you have is essential. Understand who is driving the taxonomy development and up keep. Look at how to get what people in the organization are seeking in the words (terms) they use intend to find things (this is often far broader than any taxonomy provides).

A Response to Enterprise 2.0 What a Crock

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , ,

The following is a response to Dennis Howlett's "Enterprise 2.0 What a Crock" ZDNet post (ZDNet login continually is broken for me, so I am posting here).

I like this take. But, the big thing most organizations are looking to solve is the horrendous platform that is called the intranet. Most of my work with companies is with those who have organizations where people can't find or refind anything on their intranet and much of the information sharing is through e-mail with is equally problematic.

Access to publish and share as well as being able to be on the benefit side of this, is what most of the Enterprise 2.0 tools aim to solve.

My work is mostly with companies who have 6 months to 1 year with these internal social tools, but they have yet to get the expected results. This is most often because they problems they thought they could solve with the E 2.0 tools were based on what was happening with early adopters on the web. The tools they deployed didn't fit with real people's needs, expectations, nor fears. The assumptions around how people interact and use these newer tools that get out of the way (no more 20 required fields to input one sentence in a lessons learned repository).

The problems for information sharing, retention, and aggregation are real. The E 2.0 tools are starting to get there for regular people. But the understanding for most around this space have not caught up to grasping what is hype and what has solid potential for providing value to the organization as well as the people working in it.

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A Conversation on Social Interaction Design with Adrian Chan

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , ,

Earlier today Adrian Chan and I had an e-mail exchange that both of us enjoyed and agreed it would be good to place it out for public consumption on our blogs. The ideas and concepts differ in their focus and approach, but are similar in that they are trying to reconstruct a much improved social interaction design understanding than the light understandings that are perceived and built upon in many of the social service on the web today.

What follows is the same content (directly from our e-mail exchange) that Adrian posted earlier today. It is rough form (I added markup for clarity in structure, we didn't use bullet points in our e-mail), but good understanding of what we are thinking. What I am discussing is a small part of what was in my recent workshop from last week.

On Jul 21, 2009, at 8:59 AM, Thomas Vander Wal wrote:

The conversations models & how they map to the difference faces & steps in the communication progression from personal, collective, community/group, and collaborative have interest to me. Each are different design problems with very different interaction & communication needs, hence leading to different conversation models.

  • Personal: Focussed on holding on to objects (including people & relationships) and annotating for refinding and aggregating as needed.
  • Collective: Open sharing/stating around objects (with various possibilities around level of sociality) with some conversation directly with them in comments, but also indirect conversations (friendfeed, microsharing, etc.)
  • Community/Group: Fully aware of others with interests around the object and interacting with the others in a manner that is open to others in the community/group.
  • Collaborative: Goal is getting down to one view and one product. This requires the means to identify and work through conflicting concepts and understanding. Requires working together and identifying, addressing, and working through conflict to come to one resolutions (there can not be more then one personal day policy in an organization).

On Jul 21, 2009, at 12:25 PM, adrian chan wrote:

these are cats used by ross, clay and others that i'm not totally aligned with. primarily because I don't think they reflect anthropological or sociological distinctions in interaction systems or situations. (e.g. paired interactions, triangulated interactions, group membership, inter-group interaction, alliance, family, tribe, community, or now the social media-specific formations which seem to be "invisible audiences," "publics" or "audiences" depending on who you talk to.)

for example i don't think "collective" is a natural social phenomenon but if it occurs is a byproduct or outcome of carefully structured interactions in which personal social dimensions are minimized to reduce the bias of status, rank, hierarchy and other attention-getting behaviors. Which is why has shirky written all over it, or why we all use wikipedia as our reference standard for collective action!

in other words,

  • a structuralist would tell us that these categories don't exist.
  • a sociologist would say that forms of communication and social practices transcend these categories and may be found in the reproduction in any of these categories, so cant be the causal explanation for how these categories of content production are realized.
  • a psychologist would say that user motives are not a reflection of a kind of social arrangement, that for example interpersonal stuff, attractions and flirting, lurking etc can all occur in social groups of different sizes and structure
  • a social media theorist might say that it matters more how people see others, see themselves, and think they see how they are seen by others, and that the constraints on action in and results out are what govern behavior -- but that users wont have "collective" or "collaboration" etc in mind when they're acting -- that user centric view will prevail over an architectural one

i think where shirky has a blindspot is in motives -- he's a good pattern recognizer but patterns can be effects without being causes, or without being the goal or the motive of a certain user's activity.

where shirky sees structure as a way of possibly eliminating social distortions, i still think it's essential to know how the user sees himself in the social field to know where bias may be introduced.

and in today's highly conversational mediaverse, these structures are hard to map to aggregation, disaggregation, and other twitter/status feed phenomena. twitter and its kin are so fluid, so ephemeral and time-based, that it's hard to grasp the causes of social outcomes without using communication theory and interaction dynamics (which i sloppily call "conversation models"). challenge being that one has to capture what interests a user -- could be their own status, could be their reputation, their commitment to a higher goal, their need for attention, etc, all of which come out in conversation but none of which are governed by structural arrangements (like collab, collective, or community)....

in short the question you raise is: does the social order account for user behavior? Is the social order the user's orientation. I don't think it is, but that would be my bone to pick with ross or shirky (some day....)

what do you think? am i making sense?

On Jul 21, 2009, at 9:52 AM, Thomas Vander Wal wrote:

Your approach makes sense and fits wonderfully within social comfort. One of the things I have found working with organizations on the inside is the assumptions from the outside (open web tools) are broken. Adoption of the same patterns outside don't happen inside organizations, as the measures are vastly different (outside pure numbers (100k to millions of users) and inside is percentage of employees/customers). Our assumed understanding for tools and models from web 2.0 don't really work well when dealing with closed populations. What we realize is these tools are less than optimal on the web too. This was my huge problem in writing my book (Understanding Folksonomy) for O'Reilly, I could not explain value that was derived nor could I explain things that were broken.

Conversation models fit nicely in social comfort, which I currently have set within the elements of social software and build order. Unless the prior elements are met, there is no communication/conversation. The realm of social is far more complex and runs on many different planes and models at once. There is no pure model, but a mixture of models and understandings.

The elements of social software and social comfort are important in all of the faces of perception (where personal, collective, community, collaboration, newbie, system owner, and external developer) come into play as task roles. But, seen from the perspective of a cube or other polygon, we can see many sides at once and are participants in the various tasks and faces.

I agree and disagree with "but that users wont have "collective" or "collaboration" etc in mind when they're acting" as I see the mindset of whom am I sharing with (how broadly) and goals (stated or inferred) with the task type, when users are interacting with others on internal social tools. But, it is not the user's perspective that is at the forefront as much as it is having the proper tools with the proper elements to achieve each type of task. Most organizations do not think of the progression of tasks and ensure their tools embrace the needs at the various stages. Often true collaboration elements are missing as well as desperately needed tools for personal tasks.

LinkedIn: Social Interaction Design Lessons Learned (not to follow) - 2 of 2

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , , ,

This is the second of two posts on the subject, the first post LinkedIn: Social Interaction Design Lessons Learned (not to follow) - 1 or 2 gives the lead-in to this post.

Lessons To Learn

Sadly, the new social functionality has broken much of worked well as an ambient social tool. More problematic was LinkedIn did not seem to grasp what it had: so to build on top of very good start, but it seemingly looked at Facebook for inspiration, but Facebook does not seem to be aware of good social interaction design practices.

When building social tools for broad audiences (more than 3,000 people) — which open services on the web are — there is a progression of 3 things that must be accounted for in the planning stages: 1) Velocity; 2) Volume; 3) Relevance.

As social tools start getting used they go through a progression one of them are these three stages of concern. Velocity of information is how quickly information is added by the community and has turn over on the in the frameworks. Volume is the mass of information that accumulates over time that will force how information is shared, found, and used. Relevance becomes essential when there is large volume and filtering is needed for information flows and for allowing people using the service to have a manageable stream of information that is relevant to their needs.

Many social services can go through these three stages in a few short months if they have 50,000 users or more. LinkedIn does not seem to have considered getting to and beyond the first stage in their planning.

Social Interaction at Scale & Volume

As LinkedIn has added social features they have created more streams of information in their flow. More streams lead to more velocity of information. This can be good if the basic concepts for understanding monitoring these streams as well as providing methods for moving things out of the flow so they can be acted upon or set into a personal task flow.

It seems as if the new social features are aimed at the roughly 80 percent that have 100 or fewer connections, not the moderate or heavy connectors who are the unpaid evangelists that have helped LinkedIn grow. Not understanding the value various segments bring to a service and how to satisfy those groups is rather short sighted

Social Tsunami on Homepage

The one thing that started the frustration with LinkedIn’s shift was the flood of unrelated social items on the homepage. Much of the social content shared is personal ID focused and not group or work focused (even when shared in groups or work related settings - a quick look at activity summaries regularly shows this).

One of the task flows I had with LinkedIn was to accept a connection or get notification of a connection then go to their profile page and download their vCard. The social tsunami that took over the front page of LinkedIn made that task all-but impossible. Part of it is the velocity of information running through the front page for connections increased, velocity the design did not account for.

Additionally, the new social components started eating up valuable real estate on that page and had no simple interaction design convention for minimizing, hiding, or turning off that module of functionality from the page.

Eventually the ability to turn off notifications to the social tools was added to the Settings page, but there is no notification of that functionality on where the problem exists, the pages where this container shows up (we learned this in software design in the early 90s). Also problematic is the social elements are clustered by task/tool relevance and not person or subject. Including pivots could greatly improve this as well as allow for shifting context by the person using LinkedIn.

LinkedIn Account & Settings Network Updates

Focal prioritization is essential to include in initial planning, as this becomes critical when dealing with the relevance stage or even handling a scaling volume of information. Each person using a service is going to have a slightly different set of priorities for relevance and focus. This is going to require some malleability of the system interface to allow for personal optimization of their relevance and streams.

This is not emergent behavior but the reality of what happens when systems scale. LinkedIn is built “;like a classic chamber meeting where networking is orchestrated”;, as stated by Margaret Rosas. Sadly, LinkedIn is not built for flexibility that is needed as systems scale to or beyond the volume stage. It is built as if this was a surprise, which prior to 18 months ago LinkedIn’s careful approach was much smoother with their growth of features and functionality.

LinkedIn changed its layout and structure of its pages to account for the coming new functionality, which is quite smart. But it did so in a manner that seemed to consider all notifications and functionality should have the same focus.

If you remove notifications, there is no ambient notification to let you know there is really any activity. The front page is part portal and part dashboard, but the distinct concepts around these two approaches seem to have baffled the interaction designers and developers.

LinkedIn: Social Node or Social Hub?

LinkedIn also seems quite schizophrenic as to its social purpose. It has built part of the social framework as if the rest of the web only allowed limited interaction with it, which it would make it just a node on a network. This destination framework does not account for people having any other service that provides social features that could easily be shared in or out.

The other side of LinkedIn is a hub, which information flows though. Inbound status messages from other services show up in LinkedIn’s pages as to the “applications”, but using connecting identity in a manner that permits not having Twitter messages I read elsewhere show up in LinkedIn would be more than helpful (yes, part of this is OAuth, which Twitter and many other have not deemed valuable yet (come on Twitter this is not rocket surgery). The applications and information it allows in is limited to a relatively small number of services. Having a small number of services integrated should allow for contextual relevance of the objects, but that would be assuming again LinkedIn was well thought through. This interaction with services would also benefit form LinkedIn offering OpenID as well as OAuth integration to ease the pain and security.

LinkedIn does not have an open API as of yet (this should have happened when they launched status and some other social elements). The LinkedIn API for status would allow LinkedIn to be a sharing out hub as well as the partially capable in-bound hub it already is. LinkedIn is a business focussed social environment, but has not realized its DNA is business based and there are task flows and workflows to enable that would make a lot of sense.

LinkedIn Forgot the “Me” in Social

All social begins with me. Social interaction is about an individuals intentions, actions, and their activities. What things a person wants to share with others and how interact with is one part of the social framework. Another other is consumption and working with the flows of content generated by others. LinkedIn did a decent job with flow until it started adding the more social features in the last 18 months. What LinkedIn did know (focus and purpose) they now show little grasp of understanding as their features have created more flow and more velocity for the information ebbing through the service with no planning for it. It takes very little understanding of social tools to know that this will likely happen and there are interaction elements that are going to be required to handle this, for example moving things out of the flow.

Many people want to see those they have just connected with, things they just published/shared and responses. There is also the desire to hold on to things that are relevant to the individual. This holding on to things requires a means to favorite or put it in place where things can be collected and worked on later. These things could be single comments in group discussions, people’s names/profiles who are surfacing, notifications, etc.

With the velocity of information increasing in LinkedIn the capability to perform a task and drop back into the flow where you were is gone. Any decent interaction designer for social tools knows this reality and had a stack of solutions to set in place from the outset.

Social Context in Groups

The math of social software for people is the mostly the one-to-one relationships and being able to see those. But, social software occasionally is about communicating to groups.

LinkedIn added group discussions, but did this as if the last 10 to 15 years in forums and groupware platforms never existed. The group discussions are not threaded nor do they offer the option to turn on threading for the discussions (this has been default for off-the-shelf forums for over 8 years at least). Also lacking is the capability to hold on to and collect valuable items found in discussions, let alone a means to personally contextualize them.

Another thing LinkedIn fails to grasp is contextual relationships to people in the discussions. For example, if someone I know has started or commented in a group discussion the service should highlight this. There is a potentially higher social contextual relevance for that piece of information. When information starts turning from a stream into a flood this becomes insanely important.

Once this reality of contextualizing is realized, there are a couple of options that are likely to be needed quite quickly after. One is adding new people in the discussion that we interact with; this context could be surfaced in the discussion or used to augment the rational surfaced in the recommendations.

LinkedIn Georgetown University GroupEmail from groups should not be from the organization name of the group as that looks like it is from the organization. I get official information from organizations, but lacking the understanding of contextual information for e-mail makes an even greater mess of e-mail and group interactions when this is lazily designed. The “from” should begin with LinkedIn group or some other notation.

Context for Events

When LinkedIn added events, I started getting invitations to attend them. But, the wording of the invites made it sound like they were personal invitations, which is not the context they were intended. It took quite a few rather embarrassing e-mails for many events, if they were really requesting my attendance or if it was just an announcement of the event. Understanding a modicum of social interaction and social etiquette would have saved those embarrassing e-mails.

Events also launched with many bugs (many have been ironed out, but most were of the rather blatant variety). One downside of events is there are already an over abundance of event tools, which work rather well (this is a really tough tool set to get right and build). Nearly everybody I talk to has wondered why LinkedIn did not use something like Confabb to license it or buy it (there are many event services available), rather than using their own resources on something that is not up to the level of competing products. Lastly, with regard to events, while the recommendation for connections is good in LinkedIn, the recommendations for events is absolutely horrid. If that is who LinkedIn thinks I am I need a new service now.

Models for Messaging Flows

One of the things that has been flawed in LinkedIn for quite some time is messaging flows. I liked that they pushed messaging out into e-mail and I could respond to a person from my e-mail. One thing that is missing is LinkedIn not updating their messaging flows. Looking in LinkedIn it is quite often impossible to sort out. When I stated I continually have this problem, Jess Leccetti stated, “I’ve had that exact problem! I thought it was my comp being buggy!” Messaging across various media channels is tough and most often fractured. But, when offering a solution it is important to get it right.

Profile Comments Go In...

Finally LinkedIn added the capability to for people using the service to add their own private comments on to other’s profiles. This is a great addition as it allows the means to add context to files. Sadly, it does not seem to surface that information in any other manner other than going to the individual pages.

This lack of functionality outside each profile page is really mind blowing, as it leaves out the capability for using it for tagging, contextual grouping, search aggregation, and use these aggregations for sharing up dates or filtering what is shared. There are emergent activities that could evolve out of these functionalities, but again this seems to not be well thought through.

One approach is a nice simple personal tagging or labeling interaction layer with clickable aggregation interface option. This would allow simply applying glue to personally thread items together through light aggregation. The current comment system only creates islands of context that have chasms between it and other relevant or related items.

Next Steps

LinkedIn needs to get some people in that grasp social interaction design. They purportedly have some, but I am not sure they have influence or the depth of knowledge needed (either is problematic). The LinkedIn service seems to be proof something is horribly wrong along these lines.

LinkedIn also seems to be a victim of not sorting-out what it wants to be. If it wants to be a Facebook for business, the route they are taking is not going to work well for the business users as it is greatly lacking solid functionality and cohesive interaction design with task flows enabled. LinkedIn needs to be LinkedIn and not a Facebook for business.

As many on Twitter have stated, one seemingly viable option is LinkedIn’s social additions of the last 18 months should all be thrown out and simply start over. The only piece that seems to have much positive feedback is the Q&A section, which is not something that I have interest in, but seems to work passably for others.

More coherently, a real reality check is needed at LinkedIn. They must to stop adding features and functionality until they learn to fix what they have added. They need to begin with understanding how social interaction happens, how it scales, and how people need it to work at scale. Stop looking at Facebook for what features to add. LinkedIn has some deep value as a work and business focussed social site, but that is going to require a different focus that what has been applied in the last year to 18 months.

I have deep fear that LinkedIn views what is happening is emergent (emergence happens when things are used in an unpredictable manner: whether wholly unpredictable or unpredictable in that context). What is happening in LinkedIn is not emergent. It is quite predictable: This is what happens at scale with social systems and their information flows.

A grasp of social systems and their uses at various levels of scale (and potential for various interactions and needs) is really needed at LinkedIn. The slowness to act (or, sadly, react as if this was an unknown potential) and fix what they have is not a great sign of encouragement for the organization. Hopefully having Reid Hoffman back as CEO and with Jeff Wiener as President can pull this into focus and set things on a sane path.

Tale of Two Tunnels: Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , , ,

Yesterday I made a few comments in Twitter that prompted a fair amount of questions and requests for more information. The quips I made were about the differences between Web 2.0 (yes, an ambiguous term) and Enterprise 2.0 (equally ambiguous term both for the definition of enterprise and the 2.0 bit). My comments were in response to Bruce Stewart's comment The whole "Enterprise 2.0" schtick is wearing thin, unless you've been monitoring real results. Otherwise you're just pumping technology.. In part I agree, but I am really seeing things still are really early in the emergence cycle and there is still much need for understanding of the social tools and the need for them, as well as how they fit in. There are many that are selling the tools as technologies with great promise. We have seen the magic pill continually pitched and bought through out the history of business tools. (For those new to the game or only been paying attention for the last 15 years, a huge hint, THERE IS NO MAGIC PILL).

Tale of 2 Tunnels

One comment I made yesterday is, "the difference between Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 is like the difference building a tunnel through rock and tunnel under water".

That this is getting at is Web 2.0 takes work to build to get through the earth, but once built it can suffer from imperfections and still work well. The tunnel can crack and crumble a little, but still get used with diminished capacity. We can look at Facebook, which has a rather poor interface and still gets used. Twitter is another example of a Web 2.0 solution that has its structural deficiencies and outages, but it still used as well as still loved (their Fail Whale is on a t-shirt now and a badge of pride worn by loyal users).

The Enterprise 2.0 tunnel is built under water. This takes more engineering understanding, but it also requires more fault testing and assurances. A crack or crumbling of a tool inside an organization is not seen kindly and raises doubts around the viability of the tool. The shear volume of users inside an organization using these tools is orders of magnitude less than in the open consumer web world, but faults are more deadly.

The other important factor is perceived fear of the environment. Fewer people (by pure numbers - as the percentages are likely the same, more on this later) are fearful of tunnels through land, they may not have full faith in them, but they know that they will likely make it safely on all of their journeys. The tunnels under water have greater fears as one little crack can cause flooding and drowning quickly. Fears of use of social tools inside an organization is often quite similar, there may be many that are not fearful, but if you spend time talking to people in organizations not using tools (it is the majority at this point) they are fearful of open sharing as that could lead to trouble. People are not comfortable with the concept as they are foreign to it as they are lacking the conceptual models to let them think through it.

Enterprise 2.0 is not Web 2.0

Another statement yesterday that garnered a lot of feedback was, "Web 2.0 does not work well in enterprise, but the approaches and understandings of Web 2.0 modified for enterprise work really well." The web is not enterprise or smaller organizations for that matter. The open consumer web has different scale and needs than inside organizations and through their firewalls. A small percentage of people using the web can get an account on a tool have have appear to be wildly successful correctly claiming 70 million or 100 million people are or have used their tool. But, even 100 million people is a small percentage of people using the web. Looking at real usage and needs for those tools the numbers are really smaller. Most darlings of the Web 2.0 phase have fewer than 10 million users, which is about 5% of the open consumer web users in the United States. On the web a start-up is seen as successful with 500,000 users after a year or two and is likely to have the capability to be self sufficient at that level too. Granted there are many players in the same market niches on the web and the overall usage for link sharing and recommending for Digg, Mixx, or Reddit is much higher across the sum of these tools than in just one of these tools (obviously).

These percentages of adoption and use inside organizations can make executives nervous that their money is not reaching as many employees as they wish. The percentages that can be similar to the web's percentages of high single digit adoption rates to the teens is seen as something that really needs more thinking and consideration.

Enterprise 2.0 is more than just tools (see my Enterprise Social Tools: Components for Success for better understanding) as it also includes interface/interaction design for ease of use, sociality, and encouragement of use. The two biggest factors that are needed inside an organization that can receive less attention on the web are the sociality and encouragement of use.

Understanding sociality is incredibly important inside an organization as people are used to working in groups (often vertical in their hierarchy) that have been dictated to them for use. When the walls are broken down and people are self-finding others with similar interests and working horizontally and diagonally connecting and sharing with others and consuming the collective flows of information their comfortable walls of understanding are gone. A presentation in Copenhagen at Reboot on Freely Seeping Through the Walls of the Garden focussed just on this issue. This fear inside the enterprise is real. Much of the fear is driven by lacking conceptual models and understanding the value they will derive from using the tools and services. People need to know who the other people are that they are sharing with and what their motivations are (to some degree) before they have comfort in sharing themselves.

Encouraging use is also central to increased adoption inside organizations. Many organizations initial believe that Web 2.0 tools will take off and have great adoption inside an organization. But, this is not a "build it and they will come" scenario, even for the younger workers who are believed to love these tools and services and will not stay in a company that does not have them. The reality is the tools need selling their use, value derived from them, the conceptual models around what they do, and easing fears. Adoption rates grow far beyond the teen percentages in organizations that take time guiding people about the use of the tools and services. Those organizations that take the opportunity to continually sell the value and use for these tools they have in place get much higher adoption and continued engagement with the tools than those who do nothing and see what happens.

Gaps in Enterprise Tools

The last related statement was around the gaps in current and traditional enterprise tools. At the fantastic Jive Enterprise UI Summit in Aspen a few weeks ago there was a lot of discussion about enterprise tools, their UI, and ease of use for employees by the incredible collection of people at the event. One of the things that was shown was a killer path of use through a wide encompassing enterprise toolset that was well designed and presented by SAP's Dan Rosenberg who has done an incredible job of putting user experience and thinking through the needed workflows and uses of enterprise tools at the forefront of enterprise software planning. Given the excellent design and incredible amount of user experience thought that went into the tools behind the SAP toolset in the scenario (one of the best I have seen - functioning or blue sky demoed) there are still gaps. Part of this is identifying of gaps comes from traditional business thinking around formal processes and the tools ensure process adherence. But, the reality is the tools are quite often inflexible (I am not talking about SAP tools, but traditional enterprise tools in general), the cost of time and effort is beyond the gain for individuals to document and annotate all decisions and steps along the way. The hurdles to capture information and share it are often too large for capturing one to 10 quick sentences of information that can be retained for one's own benefit or shared with other where it is relevant.

There is another gap in business around the collective intelligence that is needed, which can lead to collaboration. Most businesses and their tools focus on collaboration and set groups, but at the same time wonder why they do not know what their company knows and knowledge is not all being captured. First there is a difference between collective and collaborative activities and the tools and design around and for those different activities is more than a nuance of semantics it is a huge barrier to capturing, sharing, and learning from information that leads to knowledge if it is not understood well. Enterprise has gone through its phases of knowledge management tools, from forms for capturing information, forums for sharing, and up to enterprise content management systems (ECM) that encompass document management, content management, knowledge management, and information harvesting. But, the gaps still exist.

These existing gaps are around conversations not being captured (the walls of the halls have no memory (well today they do not)) and increasingly the ubiquitous communication channel in organizations, e-mail, is being worked around. Quick decisions are not being documented as it is not enough for a document or worth completing a form. As the iterative processes of development, design, and solution engineering are happening at quicker and smaller increments the intelligence behind the decisions is not being captured or shared. This is largely because of the tools.

As has always been the case large enterprise systems are worked around through the use of smaller and more nimble solutions that augment the existing tools. Even in Dan's incredible demo I saw gaps for these tools. The quick tools that can fill these gaps are blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, tagging, Twitter type sharing, Veodia type video sharing, instant messaging, etc. There are many avenues to quickly capture information and understanding and share it. These tools get out of the way and allow what is in someone's head to get digitized and later structured by the individual themselves or other people whom have had the information shared with them in a community space. This turns into flows through streams that can be put into many contexts and needs as well as reused as needed.

Another point Dan stated at the Enterprise UI Summit that is dead on, is organizations are moving out of the vertical structures and moving to the horizontal. This is having a profound effect on the next generation of business tools and processes. This is also an area for Enterprise 2.0 tools as they easily open up the horizontal and diagonal prospects and tie into it the capability for easily understanding who these newly found people are in an organization through looking at their profiles, which eases their fears around sharing and unfamiliar environments as well as their related tasks.